X Factor Live Shows Week 4

You know how Doctor Who had that year off? Wouldn’t The X Factor have benefited from a similar hiatus? The ‘backstage antics’ cranked up to 11 with an absent Kelly, departing boyband members and sobbing girlgroup name changes. Even with all this drama, the show was still underwhelming. I was longing for Tulisa to throw shade at Misha or call Craig names. Actually Alexandra Burke was refreshingly honest – the guest judge only just stopping short of saying what she REALLY thought of Frankie.

This week, I take a break from gushing about Misha to throw some love in the direction of Little Mix. The swing based-scary dolls act was inspired and very Girls Aloud-ish. As with all good girl groups, the Little Mixers are well within reach of my former Year 5 pupils. Think back to the early days of The Spice Girls and Girls Aloud – it should all look a bit like a cheap hen do, and Little Mix do it well. Great song, great vocals. Misha comes in a close second, this one lifting Girls Aloud’s Womanizer routine straight out of their last tour.

On to the bad. Frankie is RANCID, but worst performance is a draw between Sophie and Janet. I suspect this weekend may see missing Kelly lose the first of her girls…

Who’s Safe: Little Mix, Misha, Craig, Marcus, Johnny.

Who’s Not Safe: Janet, Sophie, Frankie, Kitty, The Risk.

Bottom Two? At a pinch I’m gonna say Frankie and Sophie…but mainly because I want to see Kitty stay. Who do y’all think has had it?

Everyone’s entitled to one good scare on Halloween…

This time last year I did two specials on my love of horror films, including a run down of my ten all time favourites. It’s so weird to think that then, Hollow Pike was just a manuscript sitting on my agent’s desk. So much can change in a year…

This year, I thought I’d share sixsixsix of my favourite horror stories – guaranteed to keep you awake in the wee small Halloween hours…

1. Dark Matter by Michelle Paver (recommended 14+)

Easily the scariest book I’ve ever read. Dark Matter sees a disillusioned, working class Londoner, Jack, set sail for the Arctic with a group of posh explorers. But wait til you learn what awaits them on the perpetually dark wasteland of Gruhuken… Isolation and madness are the names of the game in this chiller. Without giving anything away, as Jack is stranded on the island and the hours of sunlight dwindle, you’ll be sleeping with the light on, I promise. All this, plus a truly sweet and unexpected love story emerges. Highly recommended.







2. Chris Priestley’s Tales of Terror series

Fantastically dark and twisted, Priestley released three portmanteau collections: Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror, Tales of Terror from The Black Ship and Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth. These are perfect ‘just before bedtime’ stories, linked by a running theme. My favourite of the three is Uncle Montague, in which the sinister Uncle of the title recounts how he came to own the curious trinkets dotted around his remote house in the forest. Much, much more bite than most ‘children’s’ ghost stories – some of them genuinely got under my skin.






3. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

A more challenging read. A macabre carnival arrives in a sleepy US town, and two boys on the verge of manhood find themselves spellbound by the creepy circus. Poetic and dreamlike, Bradbury’s 1962 novel is really where all those ‘scary clown’ stories originated. The tale is steeped in metaphor, and while chilling on the surface, the true terror is ageing. The adult characters mourn their lost youth and will do anything to get it back, while the boys must decide if they are ready to let go of childhood.






4. Breathe by Cliff McNish

A hugely effective ghost story. When Jack and his mother move into an old farmhouse, they have no idea it already plays host to a family of ghosts – some a lot more friendly than others. Worse still, Jack has severe asthma, and an attack could put his life in great peril. This one features one of my favourite characters, the terrifying ‘Ghost Mother’, one of those seemingly charming, but frightening changeable figures, not unlike Cathy Bates in Misery. This is one mother you really don’t want to annoy…







5. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (adult read)

Sometimes a book is all the more scary without the ghosts, vampires and demons. Shriver’s tale of a mother picking up the pieces of her life after her son commits an atrocity is terrifying for this purpose. Like Rosemary’s Baby without the silly demon worship, ‘Kevin’ examines if a child can be ‘born evil’. The dread builds as Kevin gets older and his behaviour more disturbing. What’s more you can never really be sure if you can rely on Eva, his mother, as a narrator when she clearly despises her son. Required reading for anyone considering a family.





6. Room 13 by Robert Swindells

This was my favourite book as an eleven year old, and it stands up well even today. Fliss and her mates are on the Year 6 school trip when one of the party falls ill. The next night, Fliss sees Ellie-May being compelled to enter ‘Room 13’, a room which simply vanishes by day…I used to read this one to my Year 6s before the annual residential. Creepy, fun, pacy and unexpectedly gory, this more than any other book on the list inspired me to write scary stories. There are too few books like this around. A great antidote to Cullen-style vampires…






What have I missed? In winter, I love scaring myself half to death, so please PLEASE add your recommendations below!

X Factor Live Shows Week 3

I managed to avoid spoilers and caught up on my X Factor viewing late last night. My flatmate and I have taken to having a pair of handbags close by, so that we can do Vic and Bob style OOOHs whenever the judges say something catty to each other (or in one instance, a contestant). I cannot recommend this enough.

While sunning myself in Cyprus, I did happen by a little market that sold day-old copies of The Sun, so I did pick up on front page stories about ‘falling ratings crisis’ etc. Apparently Gary Barlow is ‘furious on behalf of fans’. Why? If anyone is to blame for the general malaise towards the live shows this year, it’s him with his MOR song choices…Coldplay, Oasis, Maroon 5. What next? A bit of Travis as a treat?

‘Conflict’ was the name of the game this week and you had to wonder if the shadowy overlord producers have decided that in the absence of any exciting acts, this year should be about fireworks on the panel. That old peach ‘Song Choices’ rolled back round like the cursed bad penny in a week that some scamp had played a trick on Tulisa – she took pop songs and made them rock, while everyone else took rock songs and made them whiny ballads. Weirdly, Johnny and Kitty were among my favourite performances as they were at least ‘rock’.

The main story of course was ‘Mishagate’. I don’t know how everyone else felt about this, but am I the only one to think the only person who came out of this looking like a ‘bullying bitch’ was Tulisa?  My face fell as I realised that the judge (with the position of authority) used LIVE AIR TIME as an opportunity to crucify a 19 year old girl. Now, I have no doubt that Misha B is a real bitch. AND THANK GOD – she’s the only act vaguely worth watching. I don’t give a tiny rat’s ass if she leaves live scorpions in the Rhythmix beds to be honest. I am after a popstar not a new friend to scurry down Nandos with. Madonna loathes hydrangeas, Misha B hates N Dubz. Works for me. However in all seriousness, Tulisa’s actions were astoundingly ill thought out. From here on in, I’m Team Kelly.

On to the performances. If any readers out there voted for Frankie, I’d like you to each comment under this blog with the phrase ‘I AM RESPONSIBLE’. I don’t know what was worse – the performance or the VT they ran of him discussing ‘sorts’. This was the pinnacle of awfulness, everyone else was passable. Isn’t Sophie boring though?

At the other end of the spectrum was Misha B. I want to separate her version of Purple Rain from the nonsense that followed by a paragraph because it deserves consideration on its merit. Janet’s version of Sweet Child of Mine was also very good, although could have stood a bit of ‘rocking out’.

In the end, the right person went. Sami was making The X Factor look like Britain’s Got Talent. For this reason we should probably aim to lose Johnny too, as lovely as he seems. Did you know his drag act was called Sarah Lee? I have a friend called Sarah Lea and I have never seen them together. Coincidence? I think not.

What did everyone else think? Mishagate? Kittyeye? Coltonsidemouth?

X Factor Live Shows Week 2

As I’m off on my holiday retreat next week (fear not, final proof of Hollow Pike is coming with me – editing on the beach is the way forward), I’ll miss tomorrow’s result and next week’s performances. Do me proud, readers. Also, if someone could text me the results, that’d be great as I’m going totally off Internet – no Twitter, no Facebook.

To tonight’s show. All about the girls for me. First Misha B, who really is something else…a properly exciting X Factor contestant. I may be wrong, but it seems that the creativity behind Misha IS Misha – a girl with ideas of her own (unless Kelly is a secret pop genius, although as Sophie and Janet are so MOR I doubt it). A mental Grace Jonesified version of CHARLES AND EDDIE? Are you kidding? I didn’t even recognise the song until the chorus, and it’s this sort of thinking that lifts Misha so far out of banal Saturday night TV zone. If this is week 2, it’s only going to get more amazing. I almost hope she doesn’t win so they can’t ‘Cardle’ her.

Next up, Rhythmix, who are being cleverly handled by Tulisa – her fingerprints are all over them. A girl band consisting of four less-insane-and-entitled Cher Lloyds can only be a good thing in my book. They sound ‘fresh’.

Finally, Kitty Brucknell. I’m actually being 100% deadly serious when I say I don’t think she’s very well and probably shouldn’t be on telly. There’s a whiff of Susan Boyle about this that makes me a bit uncomfortable. I think they should send her out sooner rather than later as a kindness to a fragile young woman.


The Risk (safe as houses), Misha B, Sophie, Janet, Craig, Johnny, Rhythmix.


Frankie (obnoxious and of limited talent), Marcus (failure to connect), Sami (irrelevant), Kitty (deranged), Nu Vibe (clearly hate each other a lot).

So many to choose from but I suspect Nu Vibe may have had all their life lines. Again, someone had better text me if I’m right! Who was everyone else’s favourite? Have I got it all wrong?

X Factor Live Show 1

In the year since the last live finals, I had forgotten one of the most important truths of modern life: SKY+ AND THEN SKIP THE ADVERTS. Having lived through the first live final of 2011, I feel OLDER. Certainly not wiser.

I think we can all agree that Misha B was incredible – although we don’t want her to peak too soon. The dress was a sub-Gaga monstrosity, but I was obsessed with her rapped out version of Rolling in the Deep (although it was very Diplo mixtape inspired…). Honorable mention to Rhythmix, who, on second listen, were great with Superbass, and The Risk, who have become more attractive since last week. If Janet stays to the final, I would like her to collaborate with both Diana Vickers and Nicola Roberts – the performance would see Nicola and Diana make out and essentially conceive and birth Janet. I’d vote. You’d vote.

Judge wise, Gary Barlow came across as prissy, dull and gay jibes at Louis??? Cheap and deeply unpleasant. That said, he spoke the truth throughout. I think Kelly is still my top judge, closely followed by Tulisa – who, unlike Cheryl – is never bitchy or untouchable. Sad fact was that Princess Cole became more and more brittle during her tenure.

To business: WHO’S SAFE?

Misha, Janet, Frankie, Craig, Sami, Johnny, The Risk, Rhythmix.


Amelia, Sophie, James, Marcus, Kitty, Jonjo, Nu Vibe, 2 Shoes.

Nu Vibe are GONE (depending on Tulisa’s opinion of 2 Shoes – or Moon Face/Grape Face as I prefer – as anything other than a novelty act). I strongly suspect Gary will get rid of James. Jonjo came across as thoroughly unlikeable so that might be his fate sealed. Girls are tricky. They are the slickest catergory by far, but I’d MUCH rather see Amelia again.

Who would you like to see go?

Be Warned

If you really HATE The X Factor, you may wish to slightly avoid my blog between now and Christmas (although do check for book updates too!). Last year, I loved blogging about the live shows and intend to do so this year too! Love it or hate it, The X Factor is part of the UK hive mind for three months a year, and I quite enjoy it. That’s not to say I don’t think Simon Cowell is Satan in an ill-fitting t-shirt. That’s not to say I don’t think the show has produced some of the worst pop music the country has ever seen. I DO think my Orion colleague, Annabel Pitcher, was spot-on with this piece on how The X Factor has ruined reality for modern kids.

But some people like soap operas, and it’s for this reason I love The X Factor. However, every year, the viewing public gets it wrong. The wrong one wins – just ask Olly Murs and JLS. In the end, though, the good comes out. Last year I predicted big things for runners up One Direction and Cher Lloyd, who both now have number 1 hits to their names. Matt Cardle, I assume, can be filed under Leon Jackson/Steve Brookstein/Joe McElderry.

The problem is, most viewers vote for the one they like the most. This is NOT what makes a good popstar. If Lady Gaga went on the X Factor, I imagine she’d get much the same response as Katie Waisel did last year – try hard wannabe. Robbie Williams would be booted off for being a vaguely talented big-mouth. Katy Perry can’t sing. I use a very simple technique –

1. Would you pay money to see their show?
2. Are they interesting as a character in a pop-like soap?
3. Do they get you talking, even if you hate them?
4. Would Usher/Rihanna be willing to be seen with them on stage?

To help everyone out this weekend, I have made a helpful chart of who has popstar potential and who doesn’t.

Popstars Not Popstars

Janet Devlin

Misha Bryan

Amelia Lily

Frankie Cocozza

Marcus Collins

James Michael

Kitty Brucknell (?)


Nu Vibe

The Risk


Sophie Habibis

Craig Colton

Samantha Brooks

Jonjo Kerr (?)

Johnny Robinson

2 Shoes


Now, this may seem a little harsh, but ten years of reality TV tells us that mainstream pop music never strays far from the norm. The aesthetic is important – faces sell records, which is why Vogue covergirl Adele shouldn’t be used as an example of an ‘alternative’ to pretty girls. The X Factor success stories (Leona, JLS) have all been hot. Fact. You’ll note I have put question marks next to Kitty and Jonjo, who I remain unsure of. Kitty goes through on ‘talk about’ merit, which Jonjo doesn’t have. In fact, having a sob story (soldier thing) is plain tedious. Regarding Jade, I think Kelly made a mistake, I think Jade is actually a lot more sellable than Sophie, who is totally underwhelming.

Enjoy the first live final! We now know FOUR acts will be aborted by their own loving judges! Exciting, but pointless twist time! Who is your current favourite?

Wherefore art thou Puerto Rican?

Last week, at the glorious BFI on the South Bank I was finally introduced to West Side Story. Oh, come on, it’s not THAT shocking. OK, maybe it is. Anyway, I was blown away – so impressed, and since I’ve been thinking about the enduring appeal (by enduring, I mean endlessly recycled) of Romeo and Juliet stories.

West Side Story is a 1961 film adaptation of the 1957 Broadway production, itself a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. It concerns two rival gangs – the socially-deprived, white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Tensions between the groups are already running high when Jet, Tony, falls for Maria, the sister of the Shark gang leader. What surprised me most was the grittiness of the piece. I had very much been dragged to the thing expecting a Grease/High School Musical affair with pretty songs. I could not have been more wrong.

While the song and dance numbers are balletic and graceful, the script is actually a sharp-egded social commentary, one which remains fresh and relevant for 2011. The song ‘America’ is a wry look at the lives of immigrants, while ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ (which examines the causes of youth crime) could almost be the anthem of the 2011 riots. One particularly distubing scene hints at sexual violence and there are gang-related deaths. The Disney Channel won’t be showing this one in a hurry. In fact, remove Tony and Maria’s love story, and you’d have a Ken Loach film or something.

The performances are remarkable. Shark gang leader Bernardo (George Chakiris) and his wife, Anita (Rita Moreno) are outstanding, and both deservedly won Oscars for their parts. Natalie Woods is also stunning in her by-no-means soppy role as the female love interest. In fact, her first scene sees her trying to convince Anita to make her dress more revealing!

The parallels to Romeo and Juliet are obvious from Scene One, although the play was never ‘officially’ a retelling. The Jets are the Montagues, The Sharks are the Capulets. For those who don’t know the original – shame on you! Juliet, a Capulet of Verona, falls for Romeo, a Montague, despite fierce family feuding. The original ‘star-cross’d lovers’ were not created by William Shakespeare. In fact, they came from a 1562 poem by Arthur Brook, who himself translated it from an Italian novella by Matteo Bandello.

Romeo and Juliet have come to represent every teenage pair who fall in love against the odds. Perhaps more than even vampires, this simple construct of ‘you SHOULDN’T fall for THAT one’ is a staple of YA fiction. It’s bred into us – where there is love there is drama, and it can NEVER be easy. As a writer, the fun is thinking up the barriers to put in the way of the pure-hearted young lovers.

The list of novels featuring Romeo and Juliet characters is endless, but memorable examples include Noughts and Crosses (he’s white, she’s black); The Kevin and Sadie saga (he’s Catholic, she’s Protestant); Matched (they are not Matched) and of course, wearing its influence in plain sight, New Moon. The second Twilight novel references its source material throughout, and goes on to repeat the ‘suicide’ ending. Paranormal Romance novels almost all use ‘one’s supernatural/one isn’t’ as a base coat. If we’re honest, they all have Romeo and Juliet to thank.

Although this formula is now perhaps a little too well-worn, it’s something that is so easily understood so Romeo and Juliet stories are always comforting. The ultimate thrill is that in the original, there was no happy ending. Perhaps that’s the real thrill – never really knowing if both young lovers will make it to the final page alive. If you haven’t seen West Side Story, make sure you track it down now while being shown again in selected cinemas.